Pakistanis take great pride in their cooking and it shows when you eat food from their kitchens. There are many dishes I can name; but the dish that has a special place on my palate and plate is Nihari Chicken. It is slow cooked melt-in-your-mouth chicken, enveloped in a silky smooth sauce, very very elegantly spiced. The spices are not overpowering, but most definitely assert their combined presence. When it is served to you at a restaurant, it is accompanied by a lovely plate of deep fried and golden sliced onions, julienned ginger, thin discs of green chilli, wedges of lime and finely chopped cilantro. The sauce is the star of the show here, and you must have warm naan on the side to sop it up. The chicken is a secondary player in this dish but is a tasty treat given that it is falling apart and has soaked up the glory of the spices. This is truly one amazing dish.

The recipe I listed here is an amalgamation of recipes that I found in online videos and websites. The idea behind Nihari Chicken is to create an extremely flavorful and well spiced stock, reduce it and then thicken it with a slurry made of wheat flour. While I am using chicken here, beef and lamb are popular meats as well.

The silkiness of the sauce comes from using a generous amount of ghee or vegetable oil to start the dish. We are not talking low-fat here. The list of spices you need is pretty long. If you have a well stocked spice pantry, you should certainly attempt to make your own Nihari spice powder or masala. Otherwise you can buy ready-made Nihari masala from a Pakistani or Indian grocery store. Its best to get bone-in chicken for this dish because that makes for a more flavorful stock and it ultimately translates to a flavorful sauce. Just when you think it can’t get any better, the dish is finished off by adding in caramelized onions to the mixture. So utterly Mmmm.

Nihari Masala (makes about 4 tbsps)
1 heaped tsp coriander seeds
1 heaped tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black cumin seeds (kala jeera in Hindi)
1/4 tsp black pepper corns
1" piece cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 black cardamom
2 petals of star anise
1/2" piece of mace
1/4 tsp powdered nutmeg or a small bit of whole nutmeg
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp cayenne

Combine all the whole spices in a spice grinder and whizz until fine. 

Mix in other powdered spices and set aside.
1/4 cup ghee
1 heaped tbsp garlic paste
1 heaped tbsp ginger paste
3/4 tsp salt, add more to taste as necessary
1.5 lbs bone-in chicken, cut into pieces, skinned and trimmed of excess fat
4 tbsps Nihari masala (recipe above)
4-6 cups water
1 heaped cup thinly sliced onions (yellow or white)
2 tbsps ghee to caramelize sliced onions
2 tbsps wheat flour, mixed in 1/2 cup water

In a large wok or dutch oven, warm the 1/4 cup of ghee. Add the ginger and garlic paste to the ghee and let cook on low heat for a minute or two, until the mixture loses its raw smell and is fragrant but not browned. Incorporate the salt and chicken into the flavored ghee and cook only until the pieces are lightly pink on the outside. Add about 3 tbsps of nihari masala to the chicken, combine gently and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add 4-5 cups of water to the chicken, enough to mostly cover the chicken pieces. Cook on gentle heat until the liquid reduces to about half its original volume. Do not cover the pot as the chicken cooks. While the chicken is cooking, in another pan, warm the extra 2 tbsps ghee and slowly caramelize the onions in it. Set aside when golden.

Shift focus back to the chicken. After the stock has reduced by half, taste the mixture for salt. Gently fold in the wheat flour slurry into the stock. Remember to keep the heat at a gentle medium or low. The stock will quickly turn into a sauce. Depending on how much water you added initially you might want to add some extra slurry. If the mixture gets too thick, add extra water. Fold in your caramelized onions, cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes to give a chance for the flour to cook and for the onions to impart their deep sweetness to the dish. You know you have the right consistency when your sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Serve with warm naan or rotis, and a garnish of lime wedges, julienned fresh ginger, green chillies, chopped mint and cilantro.